Following Band of Brothers and The Pacific, the critically acclaimed and highly popular WWII miniseries of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, everyone has been waiting with bated breath for the third part of the trilogy, Masters of the Air. But the waiting seems to be last forever.

We first read about Masters of the Air back in 2012. Then in 2013 HBO announced that it was developing the miniseries, focusing on the U.S. Army Air Forces’ Mighty Eight Air Force. But then nada. 

But then, in October 2019, HBO announced that they had sold the rights of the miniseries to Apple TV which will develop the series and publish it on Apple TV+. 

The Bloody and Valorous History of the Mighty Eighth

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A Group of B-17 of the 100 Bomb Group during WWII. (Worldwarphotos.com)

The Mighty Eighth Air Force was established as the VIII Bomber Command on January 19, 1942, and activated at Langley Field, Virginia on February 1. While crews were training in the United States, an advance party was getting facilities prepared in England. 

On July 4, 1942, the Mighty Eighth conducted its first bombing mission when A-20 Havocs (Boston by the British RAF) were tasked with hitting enemy airfields in Holland. The first B-17 bombing mission was conducted on August 17, 1942, when 12 B-17s from the 97th Bombardment Group flew a mission to hit the Rouen-Sotteville marshaling yards in France. That mission was led by Paul Tibbets who would later drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima

The Allies had decided upon a strategic bombing campaign: The British RAF would hammer Germany by night while the Americans would attack it by day. At its peak strength, the Eighth Air Force had 40 heavy bomber groups, 15 fighter groups, and four specialized support groups. It could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission to multiple targets.

However, it was a bloody, hard-fought campaign. The Eighth Air Force suffered half the U.S. Army Air Forces’ WWII casualties. Specifically, the Eight suffered 26,000 dead. Personnel assigned to the Eighth received 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals.

The 100th Bombardment Group (The Bloody Hundredth), flew its first mission, an attack on Bremen, Germany, in June 1943. It lost three aircraft and 30 men. This was a harbinger of things to come. From June 25, 1943, until April 20, 1945, the 100th Bomb Group would never go off operational status due to losses.

Bomber crews in the early days of the war got to go home after flying 25 combat missions. Yet, the average life of a bomber crew in the “Bloody 100th” was 11.3 missions. 

A large formation of B-17 bombers streaming heavy contrails over Europe in WWII. (Wikimedia)

Masters of the Air Gets a Director

In October, it was announced that the series hired director Cary Fukunaga to direct three of the series episodes. (The series is rumored to have nine or 10 episodes.) Fukunaga had previously directed the upcoming James Bond film No Time to Die.

Then on April 28, the news everyone has been waiting for since 2012 came true. Fukunaga announced that filming of Masters of the Air had begun in England although COVID-19 restrictions have been slowing it down.

The budget for the series is about $200 million so we can expect some very realistic CGI of B-17 heavy bombers on missions over France and Germany. Warbirdnews.com published some nice photos by Nick Taylor of B-17s around an airfield in England where the principal photography is taking place. 

The series is expected to follow the historical novel Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, by Donald L Miller.

Masters of the Air filming
Mockups of B-17s and other period vehicles on an airfield in England for the production of Masters of the Air. (Photo Nick Taylor)

They’re Our Noses and We’ll Paint Them However We Want to

During those costly days in the frigid air over Europe was the Army relaxed its tight-ass rules concerning nose art on the bombers. Resultantly, there were all sorts of art painted on the aircraft. This must have left the Germans wondering about who they were fighting.

At least that’s what one young correspondent from Stars and Stripes thought. Andy Rooney, the loveable curmudgeon from 60-Minutes flew on combat missions over Germany, trying to get a better understanding of the air war and those who fought it. He had this to say about the nose art on the B-17s.  

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“Grim-faced Luftwaffe pilots, proud of the guts that take them within the suicide circle of a fortress formation, determined to do or die for the Fatherland, must wonder what the hell kind of air force they are up against. They come diving in, teeth clenched, hell-bent for Hitler and along with a hail of lead are greeted by the stupid grin of some absurd comic-book character, or the nude form of a pretty girl painted on the nose of the bomber they are attacking…”

The art was “something else,” Rooney remembered much later. 

We expect (and are hoping) that Masters of the Air this long-awaited end of the WWII trilogy by Hanks and Spielberg blows us out of the water… er air. It is due for release in 2022. 

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